When you first start learning Spanish, your learning is turbo-charged.
Every single concept makes a huge difference so you see tangible results almost immediately. Learning just 10 new words opens up so many more options in conversations. Every new thing is exciting and you see real progress.
Does this sound familiar?
This phenomenon is known as the “intermediate plateau” and happens to just about every student of a new language. After the first burst of knowledge, progress slows way down and you don't see major improvements at the rate you did early on.
If you've hit this point in your learning, don't quit now! Instead, to get past the intermediate plateau, think of it this way:
“What got you here won't get you there”
It's time to change how you go about learning and practising Spanish. In this post, you'll learn the 5 most common mistakes intermediate Spanish learners make and how to avoid them in your quest to even better fluency. With these tips, you'll break through the intermediate plateau in no time.
By the way, if you're looking for materials and support to get you off the intermediate plateau and to fluency, then take a look at the Fluent Spanish Academy. I've put together an entire library of materials, support and community to get you to Spanish fluency fast.
You already know all the words and tenses you need for everyday conversation because you hear them all the time when you speak Spanish.
Despite that knowledge, you lack the deeper vocabulary and technical jargon to talk about politics or history. You have standard greetings, specialised vocabulary for your profession, etc. But you can't seem to get past that.
Why does this happen? It comes down to frequency.
What you need to learn next requires more of you, because you're not going to hear it as often.
You know the basic words, and now it's time to learn the ones that give you a fluency and smoothness to your speech. They're harder to remember and it's harder to know exactly when to use them.
You might go months between using words like el huerto (orchard), but without them, you'll struggle to get to the advanced fluency you desire.
You'll never get the frequency needed to remember these words if you don't make the effort yourself. They just aren't used enough to day-to-day speech for you to learn them organically.
If you want to get started on boosting your vocab, check out my list of 67 intermediate Spanish phrases.
And just where are those more advanced words going to come from? Most of them will come from reading.
Reading Spanish will give you exposure to authentic language that is also more specialised than casual conversation.
You may hear the verbs comer (to eat), hablar (to speak), and beber (to drink) on the street, but you will find verbs like apoderar (to empower), colarse (to sneak), and contemplar (contemplate) in the articles and books you read.
Writing in Spanish will also force you to create that same complex language and help push you past your current plateau. This is yet another situation where you will need to change your approach. As a beginner, quantity is more important than quality.
Now, you need to reverse that.
Instead of just trying to get as much exposure to Spanish as possible, focus on getting a lot more challenging input in order to discover deeper nuances and more complex language.
In general, I reject the notion that you can't teach yourself a new language.
Most of my languages have been self-taught with a combination of a high-quality textbook or course and plenty of opportunities to converse with native speakers.
By the time you're struggling to move from intermediate to advanced fluency, however, you'll benefit from more traditional instruction.
That way, there is someone to point out the intricacies and nuances.
You've likely reached the point where you need someone to point out minor mistakes and help you understand the subtle nuances of Spanish that are obvious to native speakers and hard for Spanish learners to grasp alone.
As an added bonus, having a teacher will give you some accountability to keep working toward your goal.
This may seem counterintuitive since so much of your learning up to this point has been in actual conversations. But again, it's time to change your approach to learning if you want to get past this natural roadblock.
If you're anything like many Spanish students I know, you're a little bit afraid of the subjunctive, conditional, and other complex tenses.
This is normal, and again, comes back to frequency.
No matter how much you want to, you can't avoid the subjunctive and the conditional if you want to speak Spanish fluently.
For starters, the subjunctive is incredibly important (and common) in Spanish. It's way more common than in English.
Besides that, you want to speak Spanish without pauses and hesitation. Your goal should be to speak without trying to compose the perfect sentence in your mind before you open your mouth.
Even if you have to start with sentences you've composed ahead of time, start incorporating the subjunctive and conditional in as much of your speech as you can.
Remember, your goal is frequency!
You probably use more formal Spanish language than native speakers because that's what you learn in school.
Depending on how you learned Spanish originally, you may still sound like you're reciting sentences from a textbook at this point. Have you ever learned a swear word in Spanish and noticed it just doesn't feel like swearing in your native language?
Instead of “feeling” it, you're trying to memorise innuendo and intent intellectually.
Right now, your vocabulary is probably made up of “surface” language – simple tenses for communicating your needs—but not the nuanced additions that push your communication to the next level.
Subtle nuances, innuendo, and humour are incredibly difficult in a new language, especially if you don't have a lot of exposure to native speakers.
Can you guess what I'm going to say yet? To improve your sense of humour and understanding of innuendo in Spanish, you need to consciously increase your exposure.
Looking back at these five common mistakes, how many apply to your situation currently?
If you're hitting your own intermediate plateau, don't get discouraged. It's a perfectly normal milestone to hit in your Spanish learning journey.
All it means is that you're on your way to more complete fluency and skill in Spanish once you adjust your learning methods to meet your current needs.
“What got you here won't get you there”, but the suggestions in this article will. So pick one to start using today and you'll be well on your way to the Spanish fluency that's waiting for you beyond the intermediate plateau.
Do you feel like you're stuck on the Spanish intermediate plateau? Which of the steps in this article are you going to take to get off it? And if you've already made it off the intermediate plateau, what tips do you have for anyone who's trapped there? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.